MONDAY NIGHTS are not as simple as they used to be, and I blame it all on Evelyn Waugh.
"Brideshead Revisited" begins promptly at 8 p.m. Monday evenings, and all other activities in my apartment stop. That means, among other things, that my kitchen remains ominously quiet for one sacred hour.
Unfortunately, the adventures of Sebastian, Charles and Julia create problems as far as eating dinner is concerned. On top of that, I have a friend who takes a course in Washington Monday evenings. She doesn't arrive in time for Brideshead, but does return from class ready for something to eat.
When the series began, (you remember, Lady Marchmain was still living and Sebastian hadn't gone off with his German soldier yet), rushing home from the office and wolfing down some salad seemed to be the solution. I'd make two portions and leave one plate in the refrigerator for Susan. There was a problem. Brideshead's meals made me hunger for more than salad, and it seemed that William Buckley began peering out of the television set and beckoning me to England before I had time to cook myself a decent meal.
The solution to this dilemma is the Brideshead Method of menu planning.
Susan and I now split all culinary responsibilities. I do all the purchasing and preparing, before the broadcast. When she returns from class, she throws the ingredients together.
After Brideshead is over, we dine, discuss, mourn because we don't live as the characters in the series do, and then clean up the dishes.
The meals that emerge from the kitchen on Mondays may not be as sumptuous as some of the feasts devoured by Waugh's characters in manor houses or on the high seas, but the method works. Here's an example:
CHICKEN A LA BRIDESHEAD (2 servings) 4 chicken breast halves 2 onions, 1 medium-sized, quartered, 1 large, coarsely chopped Salt and pepper 2 green peppers, coarsely chopped 1 clove garlic, chopped Olive oil 28-ounce can whole tomatoes 1/4 teaspoon oregano or to taste 1/4 teaspoon basil or to taste 1/4 teaspoon rosemary or to taste$5 1/8 teaspoon cayenne or to taste
6 green olives, halved
7:15 p.m.: Return home, grocery bags in hand. Wash and skin four chicken breast halves. Put them in a pot with the medium-sized onion, salt and pepper. Cover with water and simmer until done. (Approximately 25 minutes).
7:25 p.m.: Throw together a salad with tomatoes for color, mushrooms for flavor and some hearts of palm to make it seem as if we're dining with Cordelia at the Ritz Grill.
7:45 p.m.: Take the chicken out of the pot and remove meat from bones. Cut into pieces. (Cooking it ahead of time means no waiting later. Dinner's ready almost as soon as the last strains of Bridehead evaporate.)
7:55 p.m.: Coarsely chop the large onion, two green peppers, one clove garlic.
8 p.m.: Hurriedly place all the ingredients in the refrigerator and settle down in front of the tube.
8:30 p.m.: Susan arrives. Proceeds to brown the onion, garlic and green pepper in olive oil. When the onion is just translucent, she adds can of whole tomatoes along with oregano, basil, rosemary, salt, pepper and cayenne to taste. Then adds the olives. Finally, adds chicken and cooks for 25 minutes. By 9 o'clock, dinner is served.
Sometimes we have a bottle of wine with dinner, but we act as if it's champagne. After all, if we can imagine that an apartment on Columbia Road is really Marchmain House, anything is possible.